Former F1 driver and Grand Prix winner John Watson has praised what he views as a turnaround in mentality from Max Verstappen.
Watson has been critical of Verstappen's aggressive approach in the past but, speaking to RacingNews365.com in an exclusive interview, argued that the Dutch driver is approaching the 2022 campaign with a completely different style.
Verstappen has won two of the four races so far this season, having retired from second place in the other two Grands Prix due to mechanical issues, and some exciting wheel-to-wheel racing has occurred between himself and title rival Charles Leclerc at all four events.
So far, Leclerc and Verstappen have raced respectfully and cleanly, and Watson believes this is indicative of the reigning World Champion's different thought process.
Watson: It appears the penny has dropped for Verstappen
"There's a thing that's been evident, not just to me, other people are picking it up," Watson said.
"Max's driving style, this year, is a lot less aggressive when he's racing with Leclerc than when racing with Lewis [Hamilton]. I don't know why that should be.
for certain, he made moves in 2021, which, in my opinion, were
ill-judged. He went to Silverstone with a 32-point lead. He should have
won that championship way, way before Abu Dhabi.
"Maybe the penny has dropped, maybe now that he's won his World Championship, maybe there's a level of maturity or whatever you wish to call it. He hasn't got the threat presently of Lewis either ahead of him or behind him.
"There looks to be a more sanguine Max than we've seen in previous seasons."
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Verstappen is now "racing with his head, not his feet"
Watson went on to say that part of the difference in Verstappen's approach to racing Leclerc could be down to their longer rivalry across junior formulae, but that the key change has been the 24-year-old switching to a more calculated and measured style.
"Well, I think that he has a childhood history racing against Leclerc and others of his generation, from karting all the way through," Watson pointed out.
"He didn't have that with Lewis, and clearly, Lewis was his principal adversary.
"He allowed his foot to rule his head last year and in previous years."
With Verstappen leading home a Red Bull 1-2 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, marking his 22nd career victory, Watson has hailed it as one of his most impressive wins so far.
"I felt that, watching Verstappen, he had one of the most mature victories I've seen over his career," he explained.
"He seemed to drive with his head, not just with his feet. He did a seminal job, an outstanding job, and recovered from having two retirements in the first three races – he came back and essentially dominated the race and dominated qualifying."
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